An unhealthy heart can lead to life-threatening brain damage • Long Beach Post

By: Angela West, MSN, RN, CCRN-K, ANVP, SCRN, program director, Comprehensive Stroke Center, MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center


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The heart and brain have separate functions in the body. However, an unhealthy heart can have serious health implications on the brain.

The heart pumps blood through vessels to every part of your body, including your brain. A stroke occurs when a vessel in the brain is blocked by a clot or bursts. Nearly 2 million brain cells die each minute a stroke goes untreated, increasing risk of permanent brain damage, disability or death.

To help reduce your risk for stroke, it’s important to manage high blood pressure and atrial fibrillation – two of the major causes of reduced blood flow to the brain and blood clots.

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is when the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your blood vessels, is consistently too high. High blood pressure causes harm when it increases the workload of the heart and blood vessels — making them work harder and less efficiently.

If this continues, the force of high blood pressure damages the delicate tissues inside the arteries causing plaque to form inside the arteries.

As plaque builds up, the wall of the blood vessel thickens. This narrows the channel within the artery reducing blood flow and lessening the amount of oxygen reaching your brain, which can lead to a stroke.

High blood pressure is considered a silent killer, since it often doesn’t cause symptoms. The best way to keep your blood pressure in control is to know your numbers.

Blood pressure is measured using two numbers. The first number measures systolic pressure (upper number) – when your heart beats. The second number measures diastolic blood pressure (lower number) – when your heart rests between beats. Blood pressure categories include:

  • Normal blood pressure: less than 120 mmHg/less than 80 mmHg
  • Elevated blood pressure: between 120 – 129 mmHg/less than 80 mmHg
  • High blood pressure (hypertension) stage 1: between 130 – 139 mmHg/between 80 – 89 mmHg
  • High blood pressure (hypertension) stage 2: 140 or higher mmHg/90 or higher
  • Hypertensive crisis: higher than 180 mmHg/higher than 120 mmHg

Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is a type of irregular heartbeat, often caused when the two upper chambers of the heart beat unpredictably and sometimes rapidly. These irregular heartbeats can cause blood to collect in the heart and potentially form a clot, which can travel to a person’s brain and cause a stroke.

People with AFib have more than five times the risk of stroke. So no matter what other risk factors a person may have, if they have been diagnosed with AFib, it’s important to monitor their condition closely with their doctor.

Eighty percent of strokes can be prevented with lifestyle modification and adherence to medical treatments for other risk factors, such as high blood pressure and AFib.

While several area hospitals are equipped to deal with some aspects of stroke care, MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center is a Joint Commission Certified Comprehensive Stroke Center offering the highest level of expert stroke care. Learn more about the signs of stroke, risk factors and treatments by visiting memorialcare.org/LBStroke.

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